Science & Religion

Daniel Berntson

PHI 265, Fall 2020
T/Th 1:10-2:30pm, Zoom
Email | Slack


Science and religion would seem to be entirely different enterprises. Scientists perform controlled experiments and analyze data. Religious believers study their scriptures and pray. But despite these apparent differences, science and religion both aim to answer many of the same questions. They both aim to tell us something about who we are, where we came from, and where we might be going. The question then naturally arises: How are these two pictures related? Are science and religion competitors? Or are they complimentary?

This is a small discussion course in which we will think philosophically about science and religion. After the introduction, the course is divided into five main sections:

  1. Why is there Anything?
  2. Why is there Evil?
  3. Reasonable Belief
  4. God, Freedom, and Spacetime
  5. Teletransporters and the Afterlife

Each week, there will be readings, and I will present the material for the week. The main goal of the course, though, is not for you to learn what others have said about science and religion. The main goal is for you to form your own conclusions, and learn to support them with reason and evidence.


Our main text will be the be the fifth edition of Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, edited by Michael Peterson et al. This can be found online at a variety of locations (Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, OUP). Other readings will be posted as links in the schedule.


You are expected to carefully study the assigned readings, and be prepared to contribute ideas and observations in class. In terms of assessment, your final grade will be based on five short papers, a final exam, and class participation. Spelling this out in more detail:

Paper 1 600 words 10% 10/6
Paper 2 800 words 10% 10/27
Paper 3 800 words 10% 11/15
Paper 4 1000 words 15% 12/01
Paper 5 1000 words 15% 12/13
Final 25% TBD
Participation 15%

Note that the above writing assignments are deceptively short. Philosophical writing is somewhat different than other writing. Philosophers value directness, economy, and concision. A top-notch four page philosophy paper will spend no more than one page summarizing what has been said by others, then spend other three pages offering original analysis. One strategy I use when writing a philosophy paper is to overwrite. If you need to write a four page paper, write a six page paper, and then cut down to the desired length. When done well, the result is four pages of propose that have all the economy and efficiency of a fine Swiss watch.

This kind of writing may be new to you. If so, that's OK. Part of the reason that the course has several short papers, rather than one or two long papers, is that this will give you a chance to practice and incorporate feedback, with each assignment having relatively low stakes.

Participation will be a significant part of your final grade. Because everyone has a different learning style, there will be a variety of ways to earn participation credit, and participation will judged holistically. The idea is that even if you find it difficult to talk in class (for example), but have ideas and share them in other contexts, you should still be able to get a very good participation grade.

The first way that you can earn participation credit is by contributing to class discussion. The second is by participating in the Slack workspace that is associated with this course. This is meant to be a place where you can ask questions, try out ideas, and talk about the material with me and your fellow students. While there is obviously no limit to how much you can participate in the Slack discussion, each student will be expected to make one significant contribution each week by 12:00AM on Wednesday. I will say more about what counts as a "significant" contribution in class. Contributions beyond this will also count towards participation, but are not required. Third, if you come to office hours with ideas and questions, I will also count this towards your participation.


Plagiarism and other forms of cheating are completely out of bounds. Students caught engaging in either will be reported to the university and will receive a failing grade in the course.

If you have questions about how to cite material, please feel free to ask, Also, your are not only allowed, but encouraged to talk about your paper ideas with each other. The lively exchange of ideas and comments is not plagiarism. Just make sure to cite the ideas that you get from others.

Students are expected to attend all classes. if you must miss one or two classes, please use the University absence reporting website to indicate the date and reason for your absence. An email is automatically sent to me.

Papers are due by 11:59 PM on the day on which they are assigned. Late assignments will be penalized, missed exams can be taken only in the event of certifiable emergencies. Students with exam accommodations should let me know, and not be shy about making use of them.


The schedule below is provisional. Over the course of the semester, we may spend either more or less time on each topic, and I may revise the listed readings. This means that before doing the readings for a particular class, you should check back to see if there are any updates.

Clicking on the description for a class will reveal the readings for that class. Secondary readings are optional, and marked with an asterisk.

Setting the Stage

*"Exploring the Philosophy of Religion" (PR pp 1-4)

*"Religion and Science" (PR pp 531-7)

Gold, "Two Separate Domains" (Philosophy of Religion, pp 538-45)

Dawkins, "Science Discredits Religion" (Philosophy of Religion, pp 546-9)

Plantinga, "Naturalism and Science are Incompatible" (Philosophy of Religion, pp 574-9)

The university has moved Monday classes to Tuesday and canceled Tuesday classes.

Dennett, "An Evolutionary Account of Religion" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 5-10)

The Buddha, "Buddhist Nonrealism" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 10-18)

Why is there Anything at All?

Anselm "The Classical Ontological Argument" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 133-4)

Guanilo, "Critique of Anselm's Argument" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 135-7)

Plantinga, "A Contemporary Modal Version of the Ontological Argument" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 138-47)

Aquinas, "The Classical Cosmological Argument" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 148-50)

Reichenback, "The Cosmological Argument from Contingency" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 151-60)

Craig, "The Kalam Cosmological Argument" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 161-9)

Mackie, "Critique of the Cosmological Argument" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 170-6)

Paley, "The Analogical Teleological Arugment" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 177-9)

Hume, "Critique of the The Analogical Teleological Arugment" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 180-6)

Demski, "Reinstating Design within Science" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 550-64)

Kitcher, "At the Mercy of Chance?" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 565-73)

White, "The Argument from Cosmological Fine Tuning" (Cavas)

White, "The Argument from Cosmological Fine Tuning" (Cavas)

Why is there Evil?

Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 329-37)

Plantinga, "The Freewill Defense" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 338-356)

Rowe, "The Evidential Argument from Evil" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 329-37)

Kraay, "Theism, Possible Worlds, and the Multiverse." (on Canvas)

Zimmerman, "Evil Triumphs in These Multiverses, and God Is Powerless" (link)

Draper and Plantinga, "Evil and Evolution" (link)


Reasonable Belief

Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 103-8)

James, "The Will to Believe" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 109-15)

Pascal, "The Wager" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 100-2)

Hájek, "Pascal's Ultimate Gamble" (Canvas)

Plantinga, "The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 207-16)

Pargetter, "Experience, Proper Basicality, and Belief in God" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 217-22)

*Hasker, "The Case of the Intellectually Sophisticated Theist" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 223-8)

Alston, "Religious Experience as Perception of God" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 52-9)

Martin, "Critique of Religious Experience" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 52-9)

Plantinga, "Naturalism and Science are Incompatible" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 574-9)

Freedom, God, and Spacetime

Plantinga, "Naturalism and Science are Incompatible" (Philosophy of Religion, pp. 574-9)


Teletransportation and the Afterlife


Have fun. Rest. Eat lots of pie.